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Gypsy Swing by Harmonious Wail

The iconoclast Django Reinhardt’s bigger than life persona was unmatched only by his music. Gypsy guitar, or gypsy jazz, as it is equally identified, introduced a new jazz that was breathtakingly fresh, spirited, romantic and fancy free. Django spawned and inspired legions of followers, fans and musicians who followed in his wake 50 years after his untimely death. Musicians like Joe Pass, Jeff Beck, Martin Taylor and Birelli Lagrene, to name a few, have appreciated Django’s highly individualistic approach to the guitar and overall influence to jazz. Harmonious Wail brings to us a home-spun brew and fresh approach from this uniquely French-imported jazz.

Neither copy cats nor fly-by-night sensations, Harmonious Wail is a hard working group that has continuously honed its chops by touring and playing together for 17 years. Coming from Wisconsin, leader Sims Potthoff-Delaney has assembled a unit of seven musicians, not excluding a vocalist who can play cardboard box, that don’t merely retread Gypsy Swing, but help to redefine it.

Vocalist, Maggie Delaney shows us her mature singing in opener "Moscow Nights," a European traditional which the musicians execute with perfect pitch, ease and precision. The natural ebb and flow of guitar, mandolin and violin are captivating and soothing to the ear. Sounding soft and fragile ala Helen Merrill, Delaney delivers beautifully in the classic and woeful, "I’m Always Chasing Rainbows." Delaney turns it up a notch when she delivers a saucy "St. Louis Woman," perhaps in nod to Vilma Middleton who sang it with soul and an earthy grittiness behind Louis Armstrong’s formidable trumpet. Delaney goes on to perform wordless vocals in several other tracks adding, in your point of view, either uniquely other-worldly vocals, or an unwieldy hum.

In the canons of Gypsy Swing, "Rose Room," Limehouse Blues" and "Sheik Of Araby" are, note for note, synaptic in pulse, articulate and singularly melodic. There is an easy rapport between all players as evidenced in the following instrumentals, "The Basso" and "Dark Eyes," where the musicians strum at an exhilarating and brisk tempo with fine playing and plucking by all. Recent newcomer and guitarist, Tom Waselchuk, brings his home grown bluegrass and folk feel into a soupy blend that is unmistakably, swing. Couple Waselchuk’s guitars with Sims Delaney-Potthoff’s mandolin and you have a sound that is uniquely the Wails while paying homage to Django.

Django’s own snappy "Minor Swing" and American traditional, "Ballgame," rounds out an album of emotive swing, enthusiastic playing and musical craftsmanship. And clocking in at a little over 76 minutes, careful you won’t combust.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Harmonious Wail
  • CD Title: Gypsy Swing
  • Genre: Folk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Naxos World
  • Rating: Four Stars
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